Accurate, timely info needed to weather storm

Waimumu farmer Jason Smith feels there is some disconnect between the Silver Fern Farms Co...
Waimumu farmer Jason Smith feels there is some disconnect between the Silver Fern Farms Co-operative and farmer suppliers. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Voting is open for Silver Fern Farms Co-operative’s 2024 director election. Directors are responsible for setting the co-operative’s corporate governance and strategic direction. Silver Fern Farms Co-operative owns 50% of Silver Fern Farms Ltd, in partnership with Shanghai Maling. There are two spots on the board as both Rob Hewett and Gabrielle Thompson retire by rotation at the upcoming annual meeting on May 8. Mr Hewett, a prominent South Otago agribusinessman, is not seeking re-election while Ms Thompson, from Mid Canterbury is standing again. Adrian Ball, from Tirau, who is a current board-appointed farmer director, is seeking election by shareholders, along with newcomers Jo Hay (Herbert) and Jason Smith (Waimumu). Voting closes at 3pm on May 1. Business and rural editor Sally Rae talks to the two southern candidates to find out why they are standing.

"A spade’s a spade with me."

Waimumu farmer Jason Smith said he was not scared to ask questions nor ask for them to be quantified.

Mr Smith and his wife Debbie farm a sheep and beef finishing operation near Gore, comprising 917ha along with a 53ha lease block. They are aiming to supply 60,000 stock units this season.

He is standing for the board of Silver Fern Farms Co-operative to be an advocate for farmers and help create "a positive, proactive approach for all shareholders to succeed".

Weak balance sheets within most sectors of agriculture, global volatility, oversupply of cheap protein and less than ideal climatic conditions throughout most of New Zealand had created what he described as the perfect storm.

To help mediate some of that from a farming perspective, farmers needed accurate and timely information from Silver Fern Farms.

"We need good business decisions from management along with meaningful strategic goals from the board to enable suppliers to make calculated decisions for their business," he said.

Mr Smith felt there was a disconnect — an "us and them" — between farmers and the co-operative, possibly created somewhat by the current tough times. More connection was needed between the two "to keep things moving ahead".

"We just need some good clear and timely information from Silver Fern Farms.

"The information I get pretty much is yesterday’s news," he said.

Mr Smith, who is the third generation to farm in the Waimumu district quipped the board position was probably the first job he had ever applied for.

It was a big decision and one he had been mulling over for the past 12 months. This time last year, predictions were for about $8.50-$9kg a lamb. "Everybody got it completely wrong, [and it] cost us dearly," he said.

The turning point was attending company roadshows where he felt farmers "got brushed over" and he was disappointed to be "told nothing".

He and his wife left feeling disheartened, he said.

He felt they had the sustainability model "pushed down our throat" and that was another thing that he wanted to see quantified.

"For Joe Bloggs farmer sitting at home, spending money to do it, it needs to be shown where the benefits are.

"I do believe most shareholders are already farming in a sustainable manner.

"If we can prove that sustainable model works and we are getting more for our product, let’s empower our people with that information."

Mr Smith has been farming for 36 years in his own right.

He and his wife have four adult children who either work in trades or are studying at Lincoln University.

He previously chaired the Te Tipua School board of trustees and had been an active member of Pioneer Rugby committee along with Southland Boys’ High School rugby as chairman and committee member.

He is the Pioneer senior rugby coach and the role taught him some valuable life skills such as how to create a successful team environment to ensure the common goal was achieved.

"Rugby has enabled me to meet a large network of people who farm or are reliant on farming for a living.

"With this and constant communication with agents and farmers while purchasing stock, I feel I have a broad sentiment of how shareholders and farmers are feeling," he said.

Looking forward to the next season, the full implications of reduced stock numbers due to forestry and climatic conditions could seriously impact processing and profit margins.

"We need to be proactive to retain stock and attract new suppliers.

"To achieve this, we need to be market leaders at both sides of the farm gate," he said.